Training for thousands of hours for her 12th Ironman triathlon, Susan Hayden spent a lot of time looking at her bicycle and her feet. She decided she wanted them to match.
It didn’t make her any faster, but Hayden, 49, didn’t mind paying a few hundred dollars to coat everything red and black with a stylized lily pattern through a process called hydrographic printing.
“I guess the main reason is vanity,” said Hayden, co-founder of the nonproft RocketKidz triathlon program. “It’s nice to have stuff that matches.”
Hunters have been using hydrographics to customize their guns and four-wheelers for years. Camouflage gun barrels quickly became the most popular use, but now the trend is spreading. Anything and everything — from football and baseball helmets to deer skulls — can be decorated.
“Anything that can be submerged in water is fair game,” said Janie Pearson, 45, who, with her husband Hill Pearson, 47, owns Revolutionary Ink, a hydrographic company in Denham Springs.
Hydrographic printing was patented in the 1980s, but it has only recently become popular. The process starts with a plastic-like film printed with a pattern that is laid atop a tank of water. The film dissolves in the water, leaving the pattern floating.
Then an object, such as a helmet, is dipped and rolled through the layer of ink. Finally it’s washed and painted with a clear coat so the pattern stays in place.
There are hundreds of patterns, from skulls and flowers to textures like carbon fiber or wood grain. Each pattern can be combined with paint to create thousands of possibilities, Janie Pearson said.
“It’s like a pizza,” said Hill Pearson. “You can make anything you want.”
While the Pearson family has attracted much of the cycling and triathlon crowd’s business, Robbie Moore at Hydreaux Graphics in Baton Rouge has personalized lots of shotguns, rifles and four-wheelers. A rifle, for example, costs $275 to personalize, Moore said.
“A lot of guys just want to have something a little bit better than another guy,” he said. “‘Look what I got!’ We call it the brother-in-law effect, where one guy will outdo his, and he will want to outdo him.”
Moore, 34, started his hydrographic business two years ago as a sideline to his sign company, Latch On Productions. He wanted to use the process to create textured letters for his signs. It became a busy side job as he received requests to personalize all kinds of items, including riding lawn mowers, truck rims and countless guns.
The Pearsons started Revolutionary Ink this year, also in addition to their day jobs — Hill Pearson has a landscaping business, and Janie Pearson is a physical therapist. They flew to Pennsylvania to buy the equipment and learn how to use it.
So far, their strangest job has been decorating a stand-up mixer in a pink and blue paisley to match a friend’s kitchen.
Janie Pearson, who has competed in triathlons, recognized that cyclists and other athletes would love to personalize their gear, so she began advertising on Facebook to cycling groups. Bike riders from all over the country are now sending them helmets and shoes.
RocketKidz’s Hayden knew Janie Pearson from the local triathlon scene, and when she learned of their new business, she had to give it a try.
“I wanted something kind of girly, but not too girly,” she said.
Lafayette triathlete Kristin Broussard, 37, also wanted to stand out in the crowd.
“Once you find that right piece of equipment, a lot of us look toward personalizing it, something that is really unique to us,” she said. “I was excited to do something different and really kind of go out there and put my own touch on something I wear a lot.”
She talked with some painters who specialize in motorcycle helmets, but then she heard about Revolutionary Ink.
The Pearsons painted her helmet a shiny charcoal gray and printed stylized flowers along the edge. Then Janie Pearson painted an Italian motto across the helmet to honor Broussard’s Italian side of her family.
“I wanted something like a tattoo,” Broussard said, “something special on my helmet that I knew was there and didn’t stand out to every one else.”
Using hydrographics to decorate a helmet costs $80 to $90. Prices rise according to the size and difficulty of the object.